Post-Racial America: Thoughts on the Election of Barack Obama

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I’m standing in line at the grocery store and sneeking a discrete glance at the cover of People magazine. The headline reads, “Barack Obama Makes History”.
Of course, regardless of our politics, all of us must recognize that the victory of the Obamah campaign is a significant historical achievement for the United States. The trajectory towards equal rights in America, that had already reached its tipping point a generation ago or so in our culture, manifested itself in a big way with President-Elect Obama. The Time Magazine cover I’ve chosen to display here (below), The New Face of America, is well older than a decade and one I used to describe the changes in America as far back as the 90s.

That may be why today’s headline struck me as a bit of misdirection. Perhaps, I thought, the headline should read, “The American People Make History”. Eighty percent (80 %) of voters indicated that race was not a factor in their decision making. Even if that is true, this election was certainly not just a political election. It was a cultural statement.

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While the Obamah victory marks a shift in American values and culture, it isn’t because Obama’s ideas are so different. His ideas fit well within — even if far on the liberal side — the American Political machine. What’s different this go around is something far more amazing. America is different. Not only are we different in terms of demographics. We are different in terms of culture. Like Barack we are a mix of black and white and more…throw in a little Asian and a lot of Hispanic to start.

If timing is everything, Obama’s timing was impeccable. His message was on code with our shift in culture, a shift that was waiting for an opportunity to express itself. Obama’s candidacy allowed America to show off a little bit of her new self.

Certainly, we live in a new America that finds Democrats more appealling and which considers Republicans out of touch. And we have lived in this new America for quite a while now. But more importantly, this new America is a place where a black man can rise to lead the land. And, it has been this America for a while. This is the meaning of the election of Barack Obama. Welcome to the America of the future, a post-racial America.

Post-racial is a term that is being discussed quite a bit today. In general I dislike “post-anything” terminology. This is no exception. Post-racial doesn’t mean that racism has disappeared. Race still dominates the agenda for some. I’m sure, for example, that there may have been some who voted for Obama just because he’s black. These voters are out of touch with this new post-racial America.

What post-racial may mean is that an increasing number of people refuse to see the world in terms of black and white. We see race as less determinative in our search for self-identification and for belonging.

It doesn’t mean that we’ve moved beyond race to see everyone as just a person. How bland. How generic. Hopefully it means that in many ways we can be black and hispanic and white again. Hopefully it means that we can hate each other’s ideas and not get accused of racism.

Even though John McCain won a significant 46% of the popular vote, I sense that few are upset that there is a black man in the highest office in the land. Even among many of these voters — who are horrified by the economic and/or social tendencies of an Obama Presidency — there is a sense of pride in how far we’ve come as a nation, at least with regard to race.

This election may have sealed the shift in our culture. But the election of Barak Obama happened because our culture had already changed. In that sense, Obamah doesn’t bring the change we need. Quite the opposite, Obama was brought into office by a transformation of culture that had already largely happened. This changed new America was waiting for the right moment to manifest itself but many of us suspected it was there.  Only an already post-racial America could elect a black President.

Of course much change is still a comin’. My wife was enjoying the exuberance of an African American friend who was gloating about the Obama victory.  He had encouraged her to vote for Obama and against “The Man” (read “whites”) who, in his words, keeps us all down. Well, my wife does have African, Indigenous and European blood running through her veins, but she is not a citizen of the USA so his work on behalf of the campain was moot. Nevertheless, as we talked about this conversation, I had to say, as a hispanic, that those of us who circle H or B on census surveys can no longer blame the Man for keeping us down. In post-racial America, we are The Man.

What do you think?

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9 thoughts on “Post-Racial America: Thoughts on the Election of Barack Obama

  1. Ramon, So true. Every generation enters the world in need of education. As the scriptures say, we’re always one generation away from ignorance. ok, so I paraphrased that. 🙂

    However, don’t you agree that in terms of the whole world, America is way ahead of most if not all on understanding race and culture?

    Thanks for your comment.

  2. Hello Alex,

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the election of Barrack Obamah as President of the United States and on post racial America. I agree with you particularly with the idea that Obamah’s election has to do more with timing and the fact that Obamah presented a set of values and ideas that were more in context with our current shift on culture. Nevertheless, I believe that the real work of educating America on race and culture begin now.

  3. Andrew, Thanks for the comment. I would agree about the British. Is it a rather British statement when you say that the “UK wasn’t doing too bad on the Multiculturalism (not what I’m talking about by the way) front”? Or, are you really trying to discern that relatively speaking the brits are not doing too bad (presumably when compared to others)? The issue is not whether it is an American statement or not. The issue is, does it reflect reality?

  4. Wow, Alex,
    “America is way ahead of most if not all on understanding race and culture”.
    Really? That’s sounds rather an American statement, if you don’t mind me saying. Translate that as you wish. I didn’t think old UK was doing too bad on the multiculturalism front… Am I mistaken?

  5. It’s easy, Karla. But before I give a reason, let me say some words about your first statement.

    What if you were listening to a group of people between 350 and 400 pounds give testimony to the wonderful effectiveness of their diets. Would you say to them, I can’t see how you arrive at the conclusion that your diets work?

    Of course not. [Especially if said with the undertone of, how in the world could you think that your diets work?] Why? Because you don’t have enough info to know whether they work or not. The effectiveness of their diets is relative to both their starting weight and the comparison to other diets among a like group of people. This may be a group of people who have healthily lost between 100 and 150 pounds…compared to another group who had only lost 20 pounds.

    Doesn’t your first statement make this same mistake? For the sake of argument, let’s assume that that you have been told to fear Arabs for eight years by America. That’s simply not enough info to know whether or not America is a leader in terms of race and culture. It may just be an indicator that you’re listening to the wrong people. It may be an indicator that the people you’re listening to have a way to go. [This last statement is true of all of us and of all nations including the USA, of course]. It may be an indicator that America fears Muslims. But none of these indicators tell us America’s position of leadership relative to the rest of the world in this. Perhaps the rest of the world is even worse.

    Wow. I was going to give some reasons for actually thinking that America leads the world, and some thoughts about your choices, but this comment is way too long already.

    I trust you hear a very amicable and almost happy tone in my comments. I love your very, very challenging ides.

  6. Gee Alex,

    After 8 years of being told to fear Arabs and Muslims
    I can’t possibly see how you arrive at the conclusion
    that America is way ahead of anybody in the world with
    regard to understanding race and culture.

    If I had to pick a country for that honor I would probably
    choose Canada or Sweden or perhaps another Scandic
    country.

  7. Sweden — Muslims are exposed to the most racial harassment in Sweden, according to a new report from the Board of Integration. My sense is that the EU (I think the Scandanavian countries may be the same here) is far more xenophobic than even the US. But even they, because of the influence of Christ followers in the west, are ahead of many. Besides xenophobia, their relative weakness compared to the USA in the area of race may be because they have had less tension, conflict, violence and resolution than we have experienced here over the issues of race and culture. The next time Sweden elects a Muslim or Black person, we’ll take another look. Also, If memory serves me correctly, Sweden supplied the Nazis with weapons. That begins to cover Sweden with regards to race–at least with regard to Muslims and Jews. Here’s the point, America may be bad, but bad may be relatively good when you step back and look at the big picture.

    Canada, on the other hand, is perfect.

    Next…since you asked…one reason on How America leads…

  8. Hey Alex,
    Ok so this has nothing to do with this post… I was just thinking back today on some things and Steve and Deana Watson came to mind… and Max… I prayed for them this morning. Actually… everytime I see Cash Cab on TV I think of Steve, But do you know how they are doing?

    If so can ya send me a quick email update?

    Thanks
    Brian

  9. Hi Alex, thanks for visitng my blog. I enjoyed reading your post. Some interesting thoughts. I would agree that things are wrong because they are wrong and right because they are right. Hopefully Scripture guides us in making those determinations. I will be back 🙂

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